Eyeballs replace mice on Lenovo laptop

A gaze-tracking technology – described as “Kinect for your eyes” – has been built into a laptop for the first time.

Eyeballs replace mice on Lenovo laptop

Using eye motion to control computers has long been used to give the physically disabled a means of interacting with their PCs. However, it’s previously required awkward and expensive headgear.

Now, UI developer Tobii Technology has worked with Lenovo to build an eye-tracking system directly into a laptop. John Elvesjö, founder and CTO, told PC Pro that the Lenovo prototype laptop – on display at CeBIT this week – was the first to fully integrate his firm’s technology, and a “first step toward the mass market”.

It works very much like a Kinect for your eyes

The Tobii system uses infrared sensors to track a user’s gaze across the screen. “It works very much like a Kinect for your eyes,” Elvesjö said, explaining that it watches where your eyes look and how long they focus on a certain spot.

The user doesn’t need to wear any special equipment or alter their normal behaviour for the system to work. “As long as you’re roughly in front of your computer, the screen will actually know your exact gaze point all of the time,” he said. “It works like a touchscreen, but it feels your gaze point.”

No more point and click

Instead of pointing and clicking with a mouse, a user looks at the spot on the screen and clicks a button on the keyboard. “Instead of dragging around a mouse cursor, you can point with your gaze,” he said.

“Pointing with your eyes is something you do all the time,” he added. “If you want to click a folder on your desktop, the first thing you do is search with your gaze to find this folder.”

There are other uses, beyond replacing the mouse. In a Word document, when your eyes hit the end of the screen, it automatically scrolls down. The system can also help users understand what they’re reading, offering a synonym or translation for a word. “The human eye dwells a little bit longer on that difficult word, and we can pick this up, we know what you’re looking at,” said Elvesjö.

And if your eyes leave the screen for more than 30 seconds, it shuts off, turning back on as your gaze returns.

Time for the mainstream?

The technology hasn’t made it into mainstream applications because it’s been too expensive, too large for consumer machines, and too error prone. “The technology has matured,” Elvesjö claimed.

Tobii’s system is currently being looked at by operating system developers, screen manufacturers, gaming companies and other PC companies aside from Lenovo, although Elvesjö admits it’s still too expensive.

Aside from the disabled, Elvesjö claims eye-tracking PCs could also be useful for those with repetitive strain injuries, computer-aided design and gaming.

He expects it to become mainstream over the next few years. “The interest is pretty wide,” he said. “What a computer can do when it knows what you have seen and what you’ve not seen is pretty enormous.”

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